Today marked the start of Apple’s Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) where updates to the operating systems that run the iPhone, iPad and various other Apple products are typically revealed. Last year, the company unveiled an updated health app that now includes a “hearing health” section and features to detect harmful noise exposures and alert the user.
Among the announcements at this year’s WWDC relevant to the hearing industry include a new accessibility feature for AirPods that essentially allows them to act as personal amplification devices–a feature currently available on several popular wireless earbuds (i.e., Jabra, Nuheara), but to date, has only been available for AirPods through the use of 3rd party apps.
“This new accessibility feature is designed to amplify soft sounds and adjust certain frequencies for an individual’s hearing, to help music, movies, phone calls, and podcasts sound more crisp and clear. Headphone Accommodations also supports Transparency mode on AirPods Pro, making quiet voices more audible and tuning the sounds of your environment to your hearing needs.”
A new ‘Spatial audio’ feature was also announced, which According to the announcement, when it launches, the new Spatial Audio feature will support audio encoded in 5.1, 7.1 and Dolby Atmos.
Apple WWDC Observations
“Watching this year’s WWDC, one of my biggest takeaways was to recognize just how much of an emphasis Apple continues placing on its internal chip efforts. In just ten years, Apple went from outsourcing nearly all of its computer chip production to now exclusively manufacturing its own chips (to Intel’s demise). This allows for Apple to have total freedom with how the computer chips are designed and what type of features to budget power and space for (to Johny Srouji’s delight), ” commented Dave Kemp of Oaktree Products and author of the FuturEar blog and podcast.
“Just last year, Apple introduced a new line of chips specifically designed for Apple’s hearables (AirPods & Beats) – the H1 chip. The new AirPods Pro are powered by the H1 chip, which is what is enabling these cool new features. If you look at the big picture, all of these ear-worn devices, from hearing aids to AirPods are being enabled by the innovation transpiring at the chip-level.”
Andrew Bellavia, Director of Market Development at Knowles Corp, offered his take on the announcements:
“Just as I rely on my hearing aids Bluetooth connected to my computer or phone for clear understanding of video conferences, calls, and podcasts, Apple will instantly improve the lives of millions of current AirPods and Beats earphone owners who have unaddressed mild hearing loss. The Trojan horse in this announcement is that ‘Headphone Accommodations also supports Transparency mode on AirPods Pro.’ It’s my hope that a whole new class of people will discover the benefit of hearing personalization, making them more accepting of their hearing loss should its severity increase over time.”
Newly Announced AirPods iOS 14 Features:
Included in the latest iOS 14 update announcement, was the following features:
Spatial audio with dynamic head tracking brings the movie theater experience right to your AirPods Pro.* By applying directional audio filters and subtly adjusting the frequencies each ear receives, spatial audio can place sounds virtually anywhere in space, creating an immersive surround sound experience. Using the gyroscope and accelerometer in your AirPods Pro and your iPhone, spatial audio tracks the motion of your head as well as your device, compares the motion data, and then remaps the sound field so that it stays anchored to your device even as your head moves.
This new accessibility feature is designed to amplify soft sounds and adjust certain frequencies for an individual’s hearing, to help music, movies, phone calls, and podcasts sound more crisp and clear.** Headphone Accommodations also supports Transparency mode on AirPods Pro, making quiet voices more audible and tuning the sounds of your environment to your hearing needs.
Automatic device switching
AirPods automatically switch between your iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple Watch paired to the same iCloud account, making it even easier to use your AirPods with your Apple devices.***
Battery notifications let you know if you need to charge your AirPods before hopping on your next call or starting a new movie.
AirPods Pro Motion API
The Motion API provides developers with access to orientation, user acceleration, and rotational rates for AirPods Pro — ideal for fitness apps, games, and more.
* Works with iPhone 7, iPhone 7 Plus, iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone X, iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, iPhone XR, iPhone 11, iPhone 11 Pro, iPhone 11 Pro Max, and iPhone SE (2nd generation).
** Works with AirPods Pro, AirPods (2nd generation), EarPods, Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro.
*** Works with AirPods Pro, AirPods (2nd generation), Powerbeats, Powerbeats Pro, and Beats Solo Pro. Requires an iCloud account, and iPhone or iPod with the latest version of iOS; iPad with the latest version of iPadOS; Apple Watch with the latest version of watchOS; or Mac with the latest version of macOS.